I celebrated my birthday this week. I mean that literally – I really celebrated it. This is significant for me because in past years I’ve greeted my birthday like a smelly, irritating relative that comes to stay every year, whose presence I endure with practised stoicism. The only celebration would happen the day after, when I’d wake up awash with relief that it was all over for another year.
My reasons for resenting my birthday were partly due to the fact that it drew attention to me – and as an introvert, this is excruciating. Seriously, I will vote for the next politician who promises to ban the singing of Happy Birthday in workplaces. *shudder*
But at the heart of my day-of-birth anxiety was the fact that they were a reminder that another year had passed and I was not living the life I wanted to live.
There was a sense that I was running out of time to be happy, or to achieve a life that looked anywhere near as glossy as those of my peers. Every year my misery increased exponentially as I was faced with the realisation that my life had not changed significantly from how it looked at the last birthday.
This year, however, felt different.
I’ve made some major internal changes during the year that have affected the way I see myself and my future. I have a clearer sense of my life purpose and, most significantly, the value that I hold. I can look back on my regrets without feeling burdened by them. Right now I’m in the process of changing careers, so I don’t feel stuck or inadequate professionally any more. I no longer fret about being single, nor interpret this as evidence that I am flawed. It feels like I have enough time, and enough support from the Universe, to grow to a point that I can emotionally handle, and flourish in, a relationship.
I have wonderful friendships in which I have a sense of belonging and feel valued. Actually, this is probably the most significant change of all when it comes to birthdays. I can still remember the despair and humiliation of my 32nd birthday when only two people showed up for drinks. As I write this post, I’m preparing to meet 18 friends for my birthday celebrations. This blows my mind – 18 people like me enough to come and celebrate with me!
What all this amounts to is me having dropped my ideas of how my life should look – which is what was causing my birthday angst in the past. Instead I’ve arrived at something very close to acceptance of what is. I can recognise and celebrate the many blessings in my life and I don’t feel myself disappearing into the blistering chasm between the hand I imagined I would play, and the hand I’ve been dealt. In addition, I know how much power I have to bring about change, so I’ve dropped my self-pity I used to hold.
Most crucially, I’ve stopped comparing myself to other people on the regular. On this point my resolve gets tested often (particularly on social media) but I’m better able to detach from comparisons, and jealousy. This is not easy when you’ve grown up in New Zealand, a country where your relationship status is prized above any personal attributes or achievements. But it’s in my choices, not my circumstances, that I measure my worth now.
This is the first year that I truly understand exactly how much I have to celebrate, and I have good reason to believe that will expand and deepen as I age. In a culture obsessed with time and deadlines, my anchoring principles are these: I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and the best is yet to come.
I still hate that fucking office birthday singalong though.